What Academic Librarians Need to Know About the Common Core

Today’s post is partly inspired by Steven Bell’s recent op-ed piece on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Library Journal. Bell gives an overview of CCSS and highlights its impact on libraries, not only K-12, but higher education as well. I’m very familiar with the standards, so today’s post will delve into the specifics of how CCSS will impact academic librarians, as well as information literacy programs. I will also give you some ideas about how you can support CCSS locally.

First of all, CCSS will affect you because it will affect your students’ level of information literacy upon entering college (assuming the standards are implemented properly). Information literacy skills are embedded throughout CCSS, which means that within the next few years, you should start seeing a difference in the quality of college research-readiness among entering freshmen. This will likely impact what you teach within your institution’s information literacy program — you may very well have to redevelop your program to include more advanced skills (as Martha Stewart says, “it’s a good thing!”).

Here are the information literacy skills that you can expect most of your students to have upon entering college in the coming years (Grades 11-12):

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

If students do in fact develop these skills in high school as a result of successful implementation of CCSS, they will be ready to learn and apply more advanced research skills as entering freshmen. Now, that’s something to be excited about! But, it’s also a big IF. In order for students to have learned those skills, they must have been taught those skills. As Bell suggests in his op-ed piece, not every high school is currently equipped to adequately implement those particular standards. Several factors must be in place for successful implementation: (1) a professional media specialist(s); (2) collaborative librarian-teacher relationships; and (3) adequate library resources.

Academic librarians can help support their K-12 colleagues at the local level. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Find out if your local high schools have adequate library staffing and resources. If not, consider ways in which your library can support the research needs of those students.
  • Ask the local high school librarians what kind of support they need.
  • Consider offering professional development opportunities to classroom teachers in your community through staff in-service days, webinars, self-paced online courses (mini-MOOCs), etc…
  • Explore the possibility of developing a collaborative information literacy bridge program with your local high school libraries and public libraries to help students transition toward college-ready research skills.

If CCSS is implemented successfully, you should begin to see an improvement in your [entering] students’ research skills over the next few years. And not just with CCSS. Some states now have abandoned CCSS in favor of their own set of college-ready standards. In most cases, they resemble CCSS repackaged under a new name (that’s even true for states like Texas that never adopted CCSS). So the good news is that any college-ready standards should emphasize research skills.

I believe that no matter what standards your state has adopted, and no matter how successful your local schools are at implementing them, a key factor in college-ready research skills is the library and the librarians that staff it. More importantly, CCSS is a wake up call that all librarians — public, school and academic — should be working collaboratively to support students’ information literacy skills across the lifespan.

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